Why “secular” art matters

4 12 2009

I interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging because…

Werewolves are cool.

I want to comment on New Moon, the latest Twilight movie that just came out.

However, first, since most of my readers are Christians, I wanted to post some thoughts on why I enjoy “secular” art.

Why “secular” art matters

I know that many Christians have doubts about the benefits of art that is not produced by Christians.  They rightfully argue that a lot of media can open the door to temptation – especially sexual temptation – and can also taint our view of truth, of God, and of relationships.  That being the case, why bother with “secular” art at all?  Why not just stick to art that carries a Christian label?

There are a few reasons why I still appreciate art that is made by non-Christians.  My thinking, in a nutshell, is this:

Non-Christians aren’t nearly so bad as Christians often think they are; and Christians aren’t nearly so good as we often think we are.

Most Christians are familiar with the idea that we’re all sinful, and that even Mother Theresa is a lot closer to Hitler than to God.  In which case, even a redeemed Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, is tainted by sin that, to some degree, touches everything he does.  Conversely, even the most God-hating, mean-spirited person in the world is created by God and carries a “seed” of glory that, to some degree, touches everything he does.

So, Christians can get themselves into a great deal of trouble by assuming that anything that’s got a “Christian” label must be all true and edifying, and that anything without such a label is totally dangerous and non-beneficial.  Those labels can sometimes be helpful in telling us what we can expect art; but it is dangerous for us to use them as a license for our laziness in discerning what is good and what is bad.

The Berlin Wall?  Or a field of wheat?

Life gets a lot more complicated when the wall comes down.

I think a lot of Christians think we live in a world like pre-1989 Berlin, in which a huge, heavily guarded boundary separates one “side” from the other: We’re the “good” guys, and our job is to stay on our side and make sure we don’t let ourselves be tainted by the “bad” guys on the other side.  Meanwhile, we toss messages tied to rocks over the wall saying, “Hey, come and join the good guys!”  They occasionally toss messages back, but we shouldn’t read them, because they’ve got too many cuss words in them.

Jesus describes the world in a way that is much more complicated.  He says the world:

“is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  The owners servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good see in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?’  ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.  The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.'” (Matthew 13:24-30)

You see, everything that we see and do in this world is touched by glory and depravity.  the roots of the wheat are intermixed with the weeds in a way that can not be undone without destroying both.

Enemies in the camp // Spies behind enemy lines

So, we can’t just depend on a label to tell us what is good in this world and what is bad.  We have to be a lot more discerning and rigorous.  Because hidden within the things we might be tempted to call “bad” are seeds of glory that must be nourished and fed – so that they can grow and become beautiful.  And hidden within the things that we want to call “good” are seeds of evil that, if left unchecked, will grow and cause great damage.

The whole situation is like a sort of guerilla warfare in which you can never rest on your laurels.  There are “enemies in the camp” that can all too easily be mistaken for friends.  And God has “spies in enemy territory” with which we must establish and maintain communication.

I don’t mean that we should do anything so shallow as to start labeling people as “spies” and “enemies”.  I mean, rather, that inside of every song, every movie, every painting – and every person – there are spies, friends and enemies.

One job that Christians have in this world is to see and call forth glory, wherever it lies.  And a second job is to name and reject untruth – first and foremost among ourselves.

A treasure hunt

None of this is a license to indulge in things that are damaging to our hearts and souls.  I’m not saying it’s right for a Christian to “read Playboy for the articles”, claiming that he’s just looking for glory in the midst of depravity.  You are responsible to know your limits and to stay away from that which will tempt you.  But if applied appropriately, this perspective can turn your life into a treasure hunt in which you are again and again surprised and delighted by the glory that you see.

This kind of life will also teach others to develop an eye for glory – which means they will also begin to see God.

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